Emma Seligman’s latest film proves that amidst shifting cultural norms, raunchy flicks still have a place at the box office

These days, the horny comedies of yesteryear are hard to come by. You know what I’m talking about: raunchy teen sex movies about coming-of-age, or just coming; the kind you had to sneak into a theater to see, or that your parents went out to watch together on date night, checking their manners at the door. Since the demise of the Hays code in 1968—a set of industry guidelines for censorship in cinema that banned everything from interracial dating to lustful kissing—such films were considered a cinematic staple. But for the past ten years, they have all but faded from the box office, struggling to find footing amidst cultural reckonings and generational shifts. Instead, we’re in the era of the remake, of superhero franchises, and Barbie; a time when even the merit of cinematic sex scenes is under debate, and comedians opine about audience sensitivity affecting the caliber of their jokes. It begs the question: In a post-#MeToo era, when objectification and innuendo are more likely to offend than delight, can R-rated sex comedies make a comeback?

Hollywood seems to think so, based on the slew of raunchy flicks hitting theaters this summer—from No Hard Feelings to Joy Ride to Bottoms, a blue-blooded American sex comedy with a sapphic bent. The second film from director Emma Seligman, Bottoms follows two lesbian best friends at the bottom of the high school food chain: The bold, bossy PJ (Rachel Sennott) and her nerdy best friend Josie (Ayo Edibiri), both of whom have subzero flirting game and little hope of wooing their canonically hot cheerleader crushes. So when word gets around that students from their rival high school are beating up women, PJ hatches a plan: “We teach a bunch of girls to defend themselves. We build a community. We bond. We share. We connect. We’re punching each other, adrenaline is flowing, and next thing you know, Isabel and Brittany are kissing us on the mouth!”

Inspired by the campy comedies of years past, Bottoms draws on familiar archetypes like oversexed moms, dumb jocks, hot cheerleaders, and the uncool outsiders who lust after them—only this time, the virgin losers are two queer women, and they’re just as shallow, manipulative, and objectifying as their male counterparts. It’s their relationship—and crackling onscreen chemistry—that serves as the heart of the film, with the impulsive PJ leading the way and dragging the shy, sensible Josie along for the ride. The result is a gleefully horny, genuinely funny romp that leans into the absurdity of adolescence—capturing the awkward ache of longing for someone you deem out of your league, and the self-doubt, self-centeredness, and self-sabotage that often accompany it.

Co-written and produced by Seligman and Sennott, Bottoms cleverly remixes the codes of teen sex movies without abandoning the formula altogether. It’s not feminist in the traditional sense—the plot does hinge on two lesbians trying to dupe girls into hooking up with them in the name of women’s empowerment, after all—but defines itself in relation to the movement, with characters name-checking bell hooks, or referencing the history of feminism to call out the selfish actions of its protagonists (“I thought this was about sisterhood… This is the second wave all over again!” one club member, Annie, exclaims after realizing that the girls-only fight club was created to get its founders laid.)

Equally telling is the trajectory of the club’s kooky student advisor, Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), who is prone to reading spicy magazines in class, and claims to be an ally to women while taking any opportunity to shit-talk his ex-wife or female colleagues. His oscillating views on feminism—which he’s happy to get on board with when it aligns with his own self-interests—act as a foil to the actions of the film’s main characters, whose desire for validation from the popular femmes they lust over takes precedence over more meaningful forms of female solidarity. (“You don’t care about feminism… Your favorite show is Entourage,” Josie reminds PJ, when she claims the club is about empowering women.)

Bottoms is here to have a good time—and in doing so, proves that, in the hands of a new generation of young, queer directors, the R-rated sex comedy is here to stay.”

Though sex—and what people are willing to do to get it—serves as a driving force in the plot, Bottoms doesn’t contain explicit nudity or even a full-on sex scene. Instead, it leans into gratuitous depictions of violence, earning its R-rating with blood-splattered, slow-motion fight sequences, lewd innuendos, and dark humor (including jokes about school bombings and reproductive rights). The film also doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to sexual politics: In one scene, the tone-deaf, overenthusiastic PJ attempts to solicit emotional intimacy from fellow club members by abruptly asking, “Okay, um, so who here has been raped?” only to be met with a shocked silence from her audience—until she specifies that “gray area stuff counts,” at which point all the women raise their hands.

These nods to contemporary politics are, throughout the film, delivered in the form of jokes—because even though Bottoms is self-aware, it’s “designed to make you not think,” as Seligman tells The New Yorker. It takes place in a world where there are no consequences for setting a car on fire, and jocks roam the high school in football uniforms, taking out hits on rival teams. Sexy, silly, and over the top, it’s a stark contrast from Seligman’s debut film, 2021’s Shiva Baby, a pulse-pounding bisexual drama that leaned into the nervous discomfort of entrapment, mining its characters’ sexuality for laughs that just as quickly turn to gasps. In contrast, Bottoms is here to have a good time—and in doing so, proves that, in the hands of a new generation of young, queer directors, the R-rated sex comedy is here to stay.